Today, we will talk about that dreaded phone conversation that writers hate writing.
Note: Please excuse the screenplay formatting in this article. It was written in Scrivener and copy and pasted here.
We’ve all seen them on screen. Phone conversations. For the writer, it can often become difficult to work out how to write one correctly. That begs the question: how are they written that is deemed acceptable? In other words, it comes as crucial when deciding what kind of conversation to write.
Why the Screenwriter hates the Phone Conversation
The question is, why do screenwriters hate the phone conversation? It’s simple.
Ultimately, there are different ways of how these conversation sequences are written. Consider it as being virtually impossible to know what technique is correct.
Nowadays, experts tell writers to eliminate the conversation. However, it should depend on the story. Not what people tell you. If you need the conversation to be present in your story, be confident that you know the reason why. Also, find a place within the story to explain why the conversation is there.
If the conversation is there for no reason, take it out. Find something else to use in its stead. Doing this will allow the story to flow better and effectively.
Types of Phone Conversation
First and foremost, there are various different types of phone conversation. Let’s take a look at a collection of examples.
Generally speaking, inter-cutting are used to knit the sequences together into one scene.
Here’s an example:
EXT. RESTAURANT BALCONY – DAY
Alex stands at the railing, phone sitting against her ear.
We have a massive problem.
INT. NIXON’S KITCHEN – DAY
Yeah, no kidding.
I cannot believe that they would do that!
Neither can I. They were meant to be good.
Just fill in the blanks.
Follow the same formula for every phone conversation that you write between two people. By writing it this way, it makes the scene seamlessly professional.
An example of this kind of phone conversation would include say… the remake of The Parent Trap (1998).
In fact, there is a phone conversation between protagonists Hallie and Annie. They launch into their phone conversation about their soon-to-be stepmother Meredith Blake.
If you’ve seen television shows such as Big Bang Theory, you will have seen characters on the phone. Though, you do not view the character on the other end. Films have used them as well, however, not to the same extent as they might be seen on television.
When the conversation is written this way, it appears like so:
Bertha sits in her chair, her phone pressed to her ear.
Okay, I will be sure to do that.
Oh, I know you will. If you don’t, I will torture your cat until it loses its hair.
To add suspense to the scene, you do not need a visual of the other person’s face. Just be sure to mention whether you need the second character in the action.
We’ve all seen those split screen phone conversations. Split screen phone conversations are rare nowadays. However, they were popular in the 80’s and 90’s and perhaps the early 00’s in television.
Okay, example time!
Let’s take a look at Mean Girls (2004). Regina George talks to her friends on the phone. This example demonstrates the split screen technique.
The following example comes from the screenplay.
INT. CADY AND REGINA’S HOUSES
Split screen. Cady and Regina are on the phone from their respective houses. Regina’s skin is looking pretty bad.
Gretchen thinks you’re mad at her because she’s running for Spring Fling Queen.
Oh my God, I’m not mad at her. I’m worried about her. I think somebody nominated her as a joke or something and when nobody votes for her, she’s gonna have a total melt down. And who’s gonna have to take care of her? Me.
Note: the above the example is a partial extract from the screenplay on www.scribemeetsworld.com.
On occasion, a one sided conversation becomes necessary. For instance, a minor antagonist might be talking to the lead antagonist.
Ironically, it gives the audience a chance to construct their own opinion. Let’s take a sneak peek at an example.
INT. MOB BOSS’ OFFICE – NIGHT
The mob boss sits at his desk. A fake, bloodied horse’s head sits above his head on the wall. Pressed to the mob boss’ ear, is his phone.
Yeah, she aren’t going to expect that. It is what he deserves. She has to know that.
He listens to the caller on the other end.
We do not hear what is said.
Yes, yes. No matter what you might think, my little girl will not suspect that her man friend is her enemy. Understood. He will not what hit him.
Ordinarily, an example would include the direct to DVD movie Doctor Dolittle 3. This type of conversation occurs when Lisa Dolittle speaks with her husband John. They talk about their youngest daughter Maya and her behaviour. We do not hear John on the other end of the line. This is a one-sided phone call.
No Right Way
Therefore, the examples there is no right way of writing the phone conversation. The main objective is to ensure that people understand the gist of what is trying to be conveyed.
Finally, it is also important that the scene is written to the point. Be sure to add meaning, allowing the scene to flow with the rest of the story.